I used to say I was very good with first impressions. I thought I could see the depths of the soul of another person and immediately realize what kind of person they were. And of course, that impression was immovable…that was who they were to me forever. Whether it really was who they were or not, that was all I could ever let myself see.
I finally realized it was less about me being good at first impressions, than stubborn that my initial assessment was correct. It took quite a few times of people surprising me – both positively and negatively – before I decided that when I judged someone from one point in time, I was forgetting the complexity of people. I kept getting disappointed. (And yes….I would even be disappointed when I initially couldn’t stand someone and then they proved to be one of my favorite people. I so hate to be wrong!) The ultimate April Fool!
I may meet someone on a good day or a bad day. They may be someone who is called to do something or be someone they really aren’t (for example, in my own life often called to be an extrovert when I really am an introvert.) They may be polished on the surface, but hiding a lot of junk underneath. They may be in the midst of personal turmoil, under the influence of alcohol, around people who make them feel inferior, out of their comfort zone. They may outwardly do kind and generous things for others, but do them for reasons other than being kind and generous. They may be kind to me, but brutal to others in their lives.
We judge from a lot of things. There are the non-verbal cues. Our faces show much of how we live our lives. Smoking, alcohol, tanning, hard living – the scars show up on our faces. Smiling and contentment, it shows there, too. Heredity also plays a part. As does years of chronic pain. Years of personal pain. But even these things – while we may see them, there may be more there than meets the eye. We can’t trust them completely.
And then there are the words we use. Oh, that I would be forever judged on some of the things that have slipped out of my mouth. Things I don’t mean, but say anyway. Times I can’t quite articulate what I am thinking, and fumble. Times I say something that may sound really good on the outside, but doesn’t really express who I am and what I really feel and believe. Times I am uncomfortable and say something to fill silence, and what I say is the wrong thing. Things I have said, but repeated by others out of context and it gives it an entirely new meaning.
I think our best judge of people is our observation of them when they don’t know we are paying attention. But even that has to be taken with caution. We may not really catch them unaware. We may not see the situation as it really is. We may judge based on one small part of who they are, when there is much more than meets the eye.
As I get a little older, and hopefully wiser, I try to let people reveal themselves to me in time. I know we all have strengths and weaknesses and try to keep these things in perspective. I believe people can change and grow, and that who they are today is not necessarily all they are ever going to be. There should be very few actions in our lives for which we get a life sentence. I try to grade on a curve…and give people second chances. But I also try not to forget the little things that just may give me further cues as to who they are.
We are a complicated people, with many layers. Most can not be put in a “good” or “bad” bucket. When God was telling Samuel who to anoint as king after Saul’s reign, He went not for the obvious choices, but for David (the youngest son of Jesse, the shepherd.) He said “the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It would be so easy if we could just do that too. But in Jeremiah we find “The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Evidently not us!
So let’s just face it. We may never have the true impression of who someone is completely. But over time we may see a great deal about who a person is. We have to gauge the people in our lives in some way. I hate the hidden…..I prefer people who tell me who they are, warts and all. But all aren’t ready for that. All aren’t comfortable that they will be accepted in spite of it. Those I love, I love in spite of their flaws. Sometimes where they see them as flaws, I see them as gifts. But sometimes they are just flaws – that destroy themselves and others and keep the person from being the whole person they should be. They need to change – and I need to encourage that change gently. And maybe sometimes not so gently. Or maybe I just need to sit back, pray, and stay out of the Holy Spirit’s way and not try to do a job for which I am not qualified.
The Lord saw David’s heart….but David’s life shows his heart wasn’t perfect, nor were his choices. God knew that in advance. But He also saw something else in him. He saw that He was fit to be king. And his life would impact our world forever. We, the imperfect, are used to change the world. And that just may be our final impression.